Times are tough in the online audio delivery market, with long-established start-ups struggling to keep pace with competing formats from Microsoft as well as the ever pervasive MP3. Particularly hard hit has been Liquid Audio, which along with competitor Real Audio, has for the last few years attempted to create the de facto standard for online music commerce.
People come to high-end audio with different needs and expectations—some fairly reasoned, some slightly more highfalutin. Some listeners want to get as close as possible to an immersion experience, be it of a live performance or of some more idealized studio ecstasy. Others are enraptured by the status and sex appeal of big, hot-rod components, and simply dig gear—much as they might dig the visceral rush of a high-performance car. Still others compulsively upgrade their equipment in search of some unattainable perfection. But no matter the initial motivation, all roads eventually lead back to a love of music.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is trying to distance itself from an attempt earlier this month to insert language into a broad anti-terrorism bill that would have given the organization's members the right to hack into computers operated by Internet music sites—as well as those owned by private individuals—to find and delete pirated recordings. The wording suggested by the RIAA would have excluded copyright holders from criminal charges for causing damage to computers in the effort to control piracy.
Whenever we run a poll asking readers what record companies can do to reduce piracy, one of the most common gripes is that CD prices are too high. Apparently the National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM) and major music retailers across the country agree. They also are looking for better-sounding formats to goose sales.
DVD-Audio and SACD are offering record companies a chance to re-release their back-catalogs of "classic" material once again. But the results will not necessarily resemble the CD re-releases of the last two decades. Artists, producers, and labels now have an opportunity to go beyond the standard "re-mastered for (insert new format here)" process when updating an older title for DVD-Audio or SACD. For better or worse, they can entirely remix the master tapes for multi-channel surround sound.
For the entertainment industry, every perceived threat produces an overblown reaction. After a protracted and very public struggle, file-sharing upstart Napster was cowed into submission; MP3.com's "personal music library" was rendered ineffective through a combination of legal pressure and co-option; other Internet music experiments are threatened with lawsuits too costly to contest.
With SACD and DVD-Audio rumbling off in the distance, is the high-end CD player dead? Michael Fremer takes a listen to the Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 3D CD player and reports that the company decided it was "better to concentrate efforts on trying to optimize the sound of the two billion CDs already in play than divert company resources into developing technology and products aimed at an uncertain digital future and an unsettled customer base."
Microsoft's confident foray into the world of online entertainment didn't last long. On October 19, the Redmond, WA technology giant admitted that an unknown hacker had successfully circumvented the company's vaunted anti-piracy software.